Can the right type of locker room design help sports teams perform better?

Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada – How to get a team of ice hockey players’ head in the game? It starts in the locker room, according to Spectacle Bureau for Architecture and Urbanism, a Calgary-based design studio who created a typology-busting space for Alberta’s Medicine Hat Tigers.

‘Rather than create a space that is the representation of performance and success, we decided to focus instead on creating atmospheres that support player rituals before, during and after each game,’ said architect Jessie Andjelic. ‘Two highly contrasting spaces create a place for preparation and purification. Just as in sports, there is only in or out, black or white.’

Being an athlete involves as much mental preparation as it does physical training

The 1100-sq-m layout is divided by three main functional spaces: the dressing room, washroom and a corridor leading out into the stadium. Instilling a sense of focus and solidarity in the locker room was essential to doing the retrofitting project right. To do so, Spectacle’s team removed all the usual aesthetic suspects of conventional athletic spaces – bold colours, logos, grainy photographs and the like – and proceeded with simplicity in mind. In the dressing rooms, they replaced individually separated stalls with a birch wood lattice grid that acts to unify each.

‘Although sports are inherently dynamic, why not create athlete preparation spaces that strip away distractions?’ asked Andjelic.  ‘Being an athlete involves as much mental preparation as it does physical training.’

Contrasted by stark white and pitch black, the washroom and corridor evoke two entirely different moods, separated only by a razor-thin threshold. The first is like a spatial ice bath, clad with epoxy and white rubber floors, porcelain tiles and painted stainless steel thresholds. Built with high-density polyethylene sheets, the corridor is meant motivate peak performance by emulating the inky tunnels Ancient Roman gladiators emerged from in the Colosseum before combat. Additionally, a polycarbonate wall and door are located halfway along the area that filter natural light inside and provide a private barrier to review game strategy behind.

According to Andjelic, coaches and players for the Medicine Hat Tigers have said that the facility – referred to by some as a ‘sacred space’ – will make a big difference for their trajectory of their team. As for the post-completion addition of loud and proud visuals in line with the décor of other athletic teams? ‘Fortunately this has only happened so far in the fitness room,’ said Andjelic. ‘We hope that once they saw the space, they were convinced of our approach.’

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